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by Beth Ulion
Jan 29, 2009

A group of industry giants and their environmental advocacy partners Thursday issued a Blueprint for Legislative Action calling for an extensive cap-and-trade program and the development of low carbon technologies to address climate change. 

Aubrey Arenas/FLICKR Transportation is a major contributor of greenhouse gases worldwide.
Aubrey Arenas/FLICKR
Transportation is a major contributor of greenhouse gases worldwide.

But the unusual coalition that formed the U.S. Climate Action Partnership– 26 corporations and five environmental organizations–raises questions for the nation’s oldest environmental group. 

Targets derived from these collaborations are “all less than what we think is necessary and what science says is necessary,” said James Mastaler, who works on global warming solutions advocacy for the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club. 

The partnership set a reduction goal for greenhouse gases at 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Steps for creating the mandatory, economy-wide cap-and-trade program are laid out in the proposal. The mechanism of capping emissions is central to President Barack Obama’s plan to address climate change. 

Cap-and-trade systems typically apply a limit to the amount of emissions companies are permitted to release. Federal regulators would assign allowances adding up to this amount to the regulated companies, according to the partnership’s proposal. Companies that decrease their emissions below the required level are able to sell remaining allowances to other groups that have not been able to comply with the limits. 

Voluntary cap-and-trade is nothing new to Illinois, where the Chicago Climate Exchange, a financial institution established for that purpose, has been facilitating the trade of greenhouse gases since 2003, according to the exchange Web site. 

Deere & Company became involved because “our interests as a company and those of our customers should be present and included,” said a spokeswoman for the Illinois based corporation. The global manufacturer of John Deere products for agriculture and forestry has been a member of the partnership for two years. 

“We are encouraged by the recommendations unveiled in the Blueprint,” said Leslee Spraggins, Illinois state director for The Nature Conservancy. The conservancy is a member of the partnership. 

The report recommends allowing companies to utilize emissions offsets to comply with reduction targets. Investments in activities that decrease domestic sources of greenhouse gases are considered offsets, said the report. 

Allowing companies to use offsets as part of their greenhouse gas reductions is an attempt to keep the price of emissions allowances low and to prevent the cap from having an extreme negative impact on the economy, a key goal of the group’s plan. Included in the offsets options is “a measure of last resort” – borrowing allowances from future periods. 

In general, the blueprint sets a ceiling for offsets at 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, less than half of the 7 billion metric tons emitted annually, said the Sierra Club’s Mastaler, noting that such a plan would still allow industry substantial leeway to continue polluting. 

To encourage rapid development of zero- and low-emissions technologies the partnership’s proposal outlined policies focused on systems in the transportation, construction and energy sectors. 

Coal accounts for the greatest amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the country according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. To address this, the blueprint calls for financial incentives and regulation to advance the development of carbon capture and storage technology–another aspect of the plan that draws the Sierra Club’s skepticism. 

“The Sierra Club sees clean coal as an unproven technology at this point,” Mastaler said. “Coal will need to be proven to be clean before we can support it.” 

“You have to look at the package as a whole,” said Daniel Lashof of the National Resources Defense Council a founding organization of the partnership. The plan is “designed to align the economics so the technologies [available] can be used.”

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